And one of the classics I’d just as soon forget about forever. Last week I introduced Janice, a bridge-playing fanatic housewife, who inspired an article by the Ladies Home Journal in 1960 that, in turn, inspired me to write a cookbook, eventually leading to getting hooked on bridge history and writing Bridge Table or What’s Trump Anyway? decades later.
Janice had challenged the Journal to come visit her with a letter to the editor saying: “Friends seem continually amazed at me. . . . By 8:30 A.M. my whole house is clean and neat and I am dressed for the day. I am free to play bridge . . . ” All day long bridge, four days a week! The Journal, wrote Janice, might find it “heartening” to find one housewife in America who had life under control.
Turned out Janice was both focused and speedy when she cleaned. But the real secret to her seemingly hassle-free life was she had a lovely husband. She didn’t enjoy cooking and so her husband did most of it (and the shopping) or they ate out. It seemed from the article, that very little family activity took place inside her house–making it easier to clean. Her father-in-law lived with them but was out often and ate out. To top it off, Janice refused to have a washer and drier (almost un-American back then) because it was less time-consuming to send laundry out to be washed and ironed! Not only that, she ordered groceries over the phone and had them delivered.
I would discover over the years as I researched bridge and food history for my book, that tuna noodle casserole was the near perfect entree for ladies lunch. It fit all the requirements–a creamy-something-casserole in or on something else (toast or a patty shell) to keep it neat on the plate accompanied by a salad (canned mandarin oranges, coconut, sour cream) that was both sweet (and what ladies were supposed to prefer if they were ladies) and un-messy. Both could be made ahead and eaten without a knife.
Even Bess Truman served a version of tuna noodle casserole to her bridge club from her hometown in Missouri when they visited the White House. But she didn’t used canned mushroom soup as most did in the 40s and 50s to make it, Bess made a white cheddar cheese sauce from scratch.
Here it is fifty years after that Journal article, and I still haven’t used the great cookbook title I dreamed up back in 1960, or written a proper cookbook.
Bridge Table is not what I would call a “proper” cookbook. It’s in the “armchair” category–more about Retro food history and old cookbooks than cooking. More about menus than recipes. More intended to nudge readers to throw a Retro bridge party than provide detailed recipes.
At 90 plus, I probably never will write that pure cookbook I had in mind back then, but I’m keeping the title to myself anyway–just in case.